I am finally getting around to writing the much-anticipated sequel to my previous post about the intersection of politics and faith.
Now, let’s just lay the cards on the table here: politics can be a nasty business. It is full sleazy, back room deals, lies, subterfuge, blackmail, and all sorts of things that make for great television and poor examples of Christian living. (e.g., House of Cards)
One could reasonably suggest that good Christians should withdraw from the political arena altogether, give the politicians over to the sinful desires of their hearts, and do our own thing separate from the government entirely. I understand this outlook, but ultimately I think it is a misguided form of cultural monasticism, which is a philosophy I reject. Jesus called Christians to live in loving community with each other, and also with our unbelieving neighbors. The best (arguably only) way to introduce the lost to the kingdom of God is through exhibiting God’s uncanny brand of love while living, working, sweating, and struggling alongside our neighbors as we all go through the trials of life. (The astute reader will note the previous sentence does not contain the words “Bible” or “thumping.”) Eventually, people will notice the Spirit living within us, which is manifested by an internal joy that they do not understand but will be led to seek out. I believe this is the model through which Jesus intended the kingdom to grow. However, for it to work, it is necessary that Christians be ingrained in society living alongside our friends and neighbors and coworkers and living in community with them, which is why I reject the theology of monasticism.
I think that Jesus (and also Paul, among others) modelled this plan effectively. Jesus was a man of the people, a true populist, who dwelt among the people during his ministry. He dined with prostitutes. When he travelled, he stayed in the homes of his followers. He went fishing with Peter. People were attracted to him because they saw him struggling with the same mundane, daily struggles that they also dealt with, and he displayed a profound inner joy and compassion while doing it.
Jesus is commonly portrayed as anti-establishment, a rabble-rouser who challenged the authority of the religious and (synonymously) political leaders of the day. While that image is largely true, one part that is often overlooked is that Jesus was not completely outside the system. There was already an established network of itinerant rabbis who travelled throughout Israel, teaching to crowds and recruiting disciples. Jesus was one of these. In the beginning of his ministry, Jesus’ strategy was not particularly novel or revolutionary: he began by being engaged with the existing community of rabbis and transforming it from within. We know that Jesus was viewed as a teacher because he often addressed as “Rabbi” and was invited to read Scripture when he entered the Temple (Luke 4). It was widely known that Jesus was well-versed in the Law and prophecy, and he was a respected member of the rabbinical community.
So the point of all this is that Jesus was engaged in the community. He definitely went against the grain with many of his teachings, and ultimately he was not concerned about wining a popularity contest. (A huge crowd shouting for your crucifixion is basically losing a popularity contest in the worst way) But he did not start off his ministry by going out into the desert and shouting Scripture passages at rocks until a crowd formed. He went to were people were, and he started living with them and teaching them, and he got his hands dirty.
Similarly, I exhort those Christians who want to retreat from difficult aspects of our society to stick it out. For the Christian life to be effective, we have to have some skin in the game. To bring it back to politics, I am not saying we all need to run for office and volunteer for political campaigns. But I do think it means we should be at least sufficiently engaged in the world to know what is going on and relate to our neighbors. Politics on municipal, state, and federal levels have enormous impact on every day life through taxes, education, law enforcement, and foreign policy. The people around us, with whom we are trying to live in community, are affected by these issues, and if we want to relate to them, we have to understand that. Possibly, when voting season comes around we will have a chance to cast a vote to improve someone’s life. But I think the more important contribution we can make is simply saying “Yes, we see what’s going on with you and we and here with you.”
1 Cor. 12:26 “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”